Developmental and Cell Biology Professor Thomas Schilling and Developmental and Cell Biology & Mathematics Professor Qing Nie have been awarded a new grant by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to investigate the mechanisms that drive fate determination in neural crest cells. The five-year research project is entitled “Uncovering Roles of Cell Fate Decisions in Migrating Neural Crest Cells.” Professors Schilling and Nie will use a combination of experimental and mathematical approaches to address how the neural crest cells that give rise to much of the skull and nervous system acquire their identities as they migrate from their place of origin to their final destination in the body. The project’s results may lead to new insights into the causes of neural crest-related human congenital disabilities and cancers.
Neural crest cells, which are continually changing positions during development, decide which cell type to become as they settle on their final location in the body. So far, it is unclear how the cells decide their fate. The team will delve into the problem by analyzing gene expression dynamics in single neural crest cells at different times and spatial locations in zebrafish embryos.
The proposed research will utilize experimental cell biology techniques and computational analyses to track and study neural crest cell migration in zebrafish. Professor Schilling has utilized zebrafish in his research for years and developed human disease models based on his knowledge of zebrafish development. Because neural crest development is very similar in zebrafish and humans, the work will potentially lead to new human developmental insights.